Waitressing Through a Popular Culture Lens

How often do you go out for dinner at a restaurant? Now consider the expectations you have during your meal. You probably expect to be treated nicely and with respect, you expect to get your favorite drink, you expect free refills and water, you expect to be able to customize your food order just the way you like it, and most of all you expect an experience. Now consider where do these expectations come from. You might say your parents, you learned from their behavior, or your friends because they shape who you are as an adult. I would say the media; movies, television, music, and social media. Although we may not acknowledge it, the media and popular culture play a large role in shaping the way we see the world and what we expect from the world. As a waitress, myself I have certain expectations of a restaurant. It I also understand the hardships of the job. As a person who is solely a customer you may not understand the flip side of your dinner experience, you might think you do because you’ve seen what it is like in movies and on TV and I’m not going to lie, the media has it spot on.

Wow what a concept the media accurately represents a population for once!

This is a rare occasion and I think this accuracy in the media is attributed to people fulfilling the expectations of media. One of the most important things I have learned this semester is that the media is a constant advertisement. Whether you are watching an advertisement for a specific product, like laundry detergent, or watching a heartbreaking movie, the media is creating a life style that appeals to people. Media plays such a large role in our lives that our lives begin to portray the image that the media has created. In my opinion there is a cycle in place where people have an experience and the media notices the experience, the media adds glamour to the experience, then people begin to want this glamorous experience and so the real-life experience changes to become the glamorous experience. The media accurately depicts waitressing because people look for stereotypes in life and other fulfill those stereotypes, despite how wrong stereotypes maybe.


How the media is Right in a Bad way

There are established expectations for servers in any restaurant, we are taught these expectations when we are trained, these expectations make up the flow and appeal of the restaurant. I think that without these previously instilled server expectations there would be no standard for service and no rules for behavior in restaurants. But, in shows such as 2 Broke Girls wait staff are harassed by customers, managers, and other employees. In the clip below Max is harassed by two male customers as well as the cook, this sort of treatment is what gets negatively translated onto the public.  Being a server can be demeaning because you are fulfilling the needs of another person, and a tip is not always guaranteed, because of these servers are like puppets to expectations. We get it, it’s part of the job and that is all good and fine.  What becomes an issue is when customers begin harassing servers or vice versa, then a professional line has been crossed and that changes the perception of servers and puts servers in a less appealing light. In the article, “The shame of servers: Inquiry and agency in a Manhattan cocktail lounge” the issue of harassment is addressed because it leads servers to feelings of shame, and this is unacceptable. A server should not feel shamed for being a server, but when the media makes it seem acceptable for servers to be treated like servants, shame becomes and inevitable result. Max deals with her rude customers in an empowering, yet disturbing way that ultimately outs them in their place. The author of this article on shame supports Max’s actions, “embrace and harnessing of their shame has given them a means to realize their agency and an opportunity to embody a proletarian pride in their lives as working people – to identify with a political class of workers though an active harnessing of refusal as a tool of agency” (Murray 2014). This clip from 2 Broke Girls shows two sides of serving, it shows how harassment of servers is perpetuated through media as well as showing a way for servers to cope with harassment and shows that this harassment is not appropriate or called for.




How the media is Right in a kind of Good Way


A common stereotype for servers is that they are young people lost in life or, in a more positive light, working in a restaurant to support their dream. Either way they are working in a restaurant because they are going through a phase of transition. Personally, I can support this stereotype, I do not plan on working in a restaurant for my whole life but it is a good gig to have while in college. Working is a restaurant has many benefits, flexible hours, tips, customer service experience, problem solving skill development, and socializing. The flipside of being in this transition phase is that sometimes it never ends, you don’t develop skills needed to advance and you are stuck in a rut. There are many, many movies out there about these aspiring servers, for example the Ryan Reynolds film Waiting. This movie is a comedy about a restaurant where the wait staff are bored and waiting for life to move on, they are waiting to get on to bigger and brighter things while they wait on tables. There is a clip where Justin Long’s character has a realization that he wants to progress in life and get out of the restaurant go to college and follow his dreams. This is the positive presentation of being in the food industry in this movie. On a negative note these servers have been stuck at the restaurant and they don’t end up going anywhere, their lives are waitressing and this negative image is the one that most Americans come to accept and translate onto the real world. I think the worst part about being a server is feeling like everyone you help thinks less of you and pities you for going nowhere in life, they just assume this because that is what the media has trained them to assume.



How the media is Right in a Good Way


Finally, I want to talk about the benefits of serving and the social stereotype that servers fall into and why people love servers so much. Have you seen Cheers?  Throwback to the 90’s with this feel-good sitcom about a bar and its employees. The servers Carla and Diane are the most relatable servers of all time. Diane is attractive, the young, well-educated but slightly ditzy, friendly server that everyone loves. Carla is the down to earth, older, tom boy, hard ball server. Everyone has had a serve like one of these ladies and both types make for an entertaining meal and a good time. This is servers portrayed in the best light, most of the time. The media portrays eating out as a good time, something everyone wants to have. Cheers, I think does a great job in representing how employees of a restaurant are family. They fight, they love, they care about each other, they pick on each other, they treat each other just like family. AS a customer seeing these interactions between the wait staff and being incorporated into it as well makes more a better and more memorable experience.

A study was conducted to see how drinking facilitated social interaction between employees in restaurants. In this study, it was found that drinking was often a key part of the social interaction between employees in restaurants, weather it was drinks after work or discounts on drinks or out of work occasions. Drinking did increase the socialization between coworkers and often defined the roles of employees. Certain social patterns occur and those who participated in drinking or out of work activities were part of the “in” crowd and were therefore treated differently than those who were not. I think this article supports how the media perceives restaurant employees (Doern et al. 1998). In many different scenarios restaurant employees are portrayed as fun and social people in the media. Server social ability makes them better at their job. This article demonstrates how a restaurant job is more than just a job for employees, that working in a restaurant forms bonds and the employees become more of a family than just people who work together. I personally like working in a restaurant, I know that I have people to go to and share my life with, even if I do work with them I consider them family and I think this makes restaurants more unique. When a staff just melds together I think it changes the experience for the consumer and makes the workplace a better place to be. It is a positive advertisement of the industry and makes everyone want that experience. I mean who doesn’t want a home away from home where they can go and everybody knows their name?


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, although stereotypes are wrong, the media accurately describes waitressing for two main reasons. First, people look for stereotypes. But most importantly, people fulfill the stereotypes presented in media. I noticed that in the article “The shame of servers: Inquiry and agency in a Manhattan cocktail lounge” the type of customer described was the same type of customer that comes to my restaurant. They are older, wealthy, and mostly men. Because these customers have money and they have for a long time they have a certain expectation from their servers. They want to be pampered, and to get to know the person serving them. For me I see no problem in giving out some details of my life to customers, especially regulars. I love being a server because of the connections I make with customers, so I found it a bit strange that it was such an issue for the “Den women” in the article. In Cheers Norm is a regular and is always received happily by the bartender and servers. This is an accurate stereotype presented by the media that I am happy to fulfill. On the other hand, when customers start to mistreat, take advantage of, and abuse servers is when a line is crossed. The stereotype that servers exist to wait on you hand and foot and are yours to call on at any time is not the type of stereotype that should be perpetuated. Overall, the media can be accurate and can be used positive. What ruins or taints the image of servers is when people misinterpret the media and turn it into bed representations of reality.


Works Cited

Burrows, James. “Cheers.” 1982.

Cummings, Whitney. “Two Broke Girls:Pilot.” Two Broke Girls, CBS, 2011.

Doern, Rachel R, and Steven M Kates. “The Social Meanings of Drinking: Strengthening the Social Bonds of Restaurant Employees.” vol. 25, 1998, pp. 481–485. http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=8198.

Knapton, Sarah. “The Most Stressful Job? Waitressing, Say Scientists.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11931692/The-most-stressful-job-Waitressing-say-scientists.html.

Murray, Jennifer M. “The Shame of Servers: Inquiry and Agency in a Manhattan Cocktail Lounge.” Ephemera Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, Aug. 2016.

“Waiting…,” director. 2005, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348333/.


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About macmasters

I am a very fun and easy going person but I take m education very seriously. I like to go hiking, to the gym, camping, and exploring around the PNW. When I'm not out having fun or studying i am working. I work in a restaurant almost everyday so I am pretty busy with that but it is easy and fun so not too stressful. I want to be an archaeologist one day, I hope to conduct research in Europe investigating the overlap period of Neanderthals and humans. I am also very interested in culture and how culture evolves over time, it blows my mind how far society has come over the last century.

One thought on “Waitressing Through a Popular Culture Lens

  1. Hey macmasters,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post, it was so different compared to what everyone else (including myself) did, in a good way. You looked beyond obvious identities and customer service is defiantly something, typically anyone in high school or college that has a job has experience. I have and currently work in retail and never had a job in the food industry but I could only image the stress level it in tails. It is interesting to know now that most of what popular culture represents of waitresses is accurate and it opened my eyes because for the majority of this project many of us focused on how popular culture was wrong and how it generalize populations. It is refreshing to read your piece of the flip side to it all. Working any of these jobs whether that be retail or working at a restaurant, as you said, for most of us this is temporary and it is something to get us by or help pay the bills not a lifelong goal of ours. I can so relate to the way customers talk to employees because I for one have had my fair share of angry customers over situations I had no control over and I just think to myself, “You are a 40-year-old women giving attitude and being disrespectful to a 19-year-old”, “I am someone’s daughter, would you let anyone talk to your children that way?” It is baffling the things you deal with in customer service. Anywho, great job on you blog post, really interesting topic!!

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